If things had gone just a little bit differently -- if different people had been in the room, if a conversation had taken a different tangent, if a butterfly had fluttered its wings at just a slightly different rate -- you might be reading this story on TheAtlantic.cor.
Yes, dot-cor. As in "corporate."
In a fantastic piece for the newly dotcom-ified Washington Post, Monica Hesse takes a look at the origins of the top-level domain: .com, .gov, and other URL-appendages that have become so familiar as to be almost invisible. It was 28 years ago that the first .com domain was registered -- by Symbolics, Inc., a computer manufacturer that had spun off from MIT's AI Lab. But in those early days of the World Wide Web, it seems, nobody was quite sure of how far-reaching, and enduring, their decisions would be when it came to the structure that would organize the Internet. Dot-com -- which now appends the names of some 100 million websites -- came about, Hesse writes, "almost by happenstance."
Many of those early discussions of what the web would look like, says Craig Partridge, a scientist involved in the talks, took place "not in formal meetings but in casual memos or hallway conversations." The Internet, of course, was initially used largely by academics -- and, at first, Partridge and his fellow scientists thought that the top-level domains should simply reflect the various academic institutions involved in the network. By that logic, Hesse notes, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology would be found at .mit, Harvard would be found at .harvard, and so on. Eventually, however, a discussion group led by USC's Jon Postel concluded that broad classifications would make more sense than narrower ones. "What mattered about MIT," in other words, "was that it was a university."